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Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

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Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

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Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’s schedule in full.

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2018 World Cup schedule – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

World Cup Group H Preview: Poland, Colombia, Senegal, Japan

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Perhaps the most wide-open group in the entire tournament, Group H is going to be oodles of fun. Of the four teams in the group, only Japan did not get at least one pick to top the group in PST’s writer predictions of the tournament results, and every team was picked to advance through to the knockout round at least once, with only Japan receiving less than two votes to advance.

Colombia: After a promising 3rd place finish in the 2016 Copa America, Colombia barely squeaked into the 2018 World Cup after struggling through a tough CONMEBOL qualification slate. After failing to win in any of its final four qualifying matches, Los Cafeteros have had a weird run-up to the tournament, beating France before a pair of 0-0 draws against Australia and Egypt. Nobody really knows what to expect from Colombia in Russia. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

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Senegal: Sadio Mane is a chic pick as one of the top players to watch in the 2018 World Cup, and Senegal has a surprisingly strong young team. The problem is the attacking support behind Mane, and when teams focus on the Liverpool star, they struggle to produce much else. Still, Senegal got a generous group draw without a clear frontrunner, and that could see them into the knockout round. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

Japan: The Samurai Blue is a true dark horse of this tournament, but their strong attacking group will work against them. They have decent star power in Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa, Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki, and former AC Milan attacker Keiuske Honda, but the defense is unbelievably suspect. During the run-up to the World Cup, Japan coughed up six goals in three June matches against Ghana, Switzerland, and Paraguay. READ FULL TEAM PREVIEW

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Who’s going through: Poland and Colombia

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Who’s going home: Senegal and Japan

Marquee match: Colombia vs. Senegal, June 28 in Volgograd

Top 5 players to watch
1) James Rodriguez — Colombia
2) Robert Lewandowski — Poland
3) Sadio Mane — Senegal
4) Shinji Okazaki — Japan
5) Kalidou Koulibaly — Senegal